Economics 101 & Theology 101

The Word ‘Capitalism’ Comes with Baggage—But It’s Not Bad! Here’s Why.

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Editor’s note: Hugh Whelchel was recently featured in an interview with Praxis Circle. Below are a few highlights of that conversation, which you can watch in full here.

What Do You Think About Capitalism?

It’s a word that comes with a lot of baggage, but what word doesn’t anymore? I don’t have a real problem with capitalism as long as we’re talking about the same thing. I’m resistant because I don’t want you to say that the Bible teaches capitalism. I don’t believe it does. If I say that, people say, “Woah, woah, woah. But you say that western civilization was created because of Christianity.” 

Here’s what I believe: there are all of these economic principles that God wove into the fabric of creation, and we have to understand what they are, how to go out and use them, and then those of us who have been called to the business world have to be able to use them in a way to bring flourishing

We also need to be able to go out and observe existing business systems that are out there already and see how those match up to the principles that God has already established. So let’s look at capitalism, communism, and socialism. Let’s use an illustration about property rights

  • Capitalism: property rights, check—big check. 
  • Socialism: no property rights. If we don’t own the means of production, how then can socialism and Christianity work together? I think you have to answer that question if you’re going to proceed down that route. 
  • Communism: has the same problem. There are no property rights, you don’t own anything, the state owns everything. So, if scripture tells us that property rights are so important, how can we walk down the road to communism and still say we believe what scripture says?

I think that’s the way we have to begin to think through these things. Is there a better system out there than capitalism? Maybe there is, maybe we just haven’t found it yet. But for right now, as far as I can see, it aligns more with the principles that are taught in scripture than anything else out there. So I’m okay using it! 

If you understand how it’s been used correctly, it’s created more wealth since the seventeen hundreds than we’ve ever seen—ever in the history of the world. I think that’s a good thing, particularly when that wealth is rechanneled to help bring more flourishing. 

(Watch this part of the interview here.)

What About Wealth Creation?

There’s a great passage in Deuteronomy 8. Moses is giving the commandments to the second generation of Israelites as they’re getting ready to take back the Promised Land. And he says, “Don’t forget, that the Lord your God gave you the ability to create wealth so that he (God) might confirm his covenant with you.” 

Now that’s really quite amazing when we think about it! It’s God who gave us the ability to create wealth so that God could confirm the covenant. The one Moses has in mind is the one with Abraham. God blessed Abraham so that Abraham could be a blessing. We’re to create wealth to be a blessing to other people. How much wealth? As much as we can possibly create. No limits! That’s the piece we really need to think more about. 

That’s one topic that IFWE has on its radar—wealth creation—because there is not much that has been done on it. In fact, I did research on that passage with fifty commentaries, and only two of the fifty addressed the wealth creation piece, none of the others did. You think, “That’s so incredibly important, how could you miss it?” Because there are theologians who don’t think about business. 

That’s one of our problems when we read the bible, we don’t read the business part because it’s not being addressed by business people, and we need to change that. That’s one of the main things we’re trying to do at IFWE.

(Watch this part of the interview here.)

The Slippery Slope of Wealth Creation

In the Puritan days, and even before that, if you were very Calvinist, had a business that’s just running on all eight cylinders so you’re making money hand over fist, and your pastor found out that you had a big wad of money in your bank account, guess what he would do? He would be all over you! Because that big heap of money is God’s money. What are you supposed to be doing with it? Parable of the talents. We reinvest it so that you can get more return, grow your company bigger, get more blessing, and more flourishing. It’s not about making you rich so that you can sit on an island somewhere. 

But that’s the piece we’ve lost, because we’ve so trained people that work is all about you, it’s all about amassing a certain amount of wealth so that you don’t have to work later because work is the curse, work is not the blessing. The problem is that that’s at the heart of what we’ve got wrong. We think that work is the curse and that leisure is the blessing—and I believe it’s the opposite, that leisure can become a curse. Work is definitely the blessing. We’ve got to get that right if we’re going to move forward.

(Watch this part of the interview here.)

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